The Story of Polls ’99

The results of the 1999 Lok Sabha polls are evident – the BJP’s Atal Behari Vajpayee, who ran his government after the February ’98 polls with a bare majority is now far more comfortably placed with over 300 MPs occupying the Treasury benches in a House of 544. In the first–past–the–post system that Indian democracy is wedded to, result is what matters — there is a clear winner and a clear loser. But there are many interesting messages contained in the story of the same election. And that story blasts many myths surrounding the present polls that the BJP in particular would like people not to remember.

Here are some messages that the result of the 1999 polls conceals:

l The entire campaign of the BJP was hinged on the tried, tested and trustworthy leadership of Vajpayee, the Prime Minister who had delivered — ‘The man you can trust. In Peace and in War’. In short, the BJP would have us believe that a Vajpayee–wave, thanks to his statesman-like handling of the Kargil crisis, won the day for the NDA. The fact is that in his own constituency, Lucknow, Vajpayee’s victory margin was reduced by over a lakh compared to the ’98 polls.

Besides, in U.P., the state from where Vajpayee contested, and the state which was crucial to the BJP’s meteoric rise in the ’90s — 51 out of the BJP’s 120 seats in 1991, 52 out of 161 seats in ’96, 57 out of 182 in ’98 — the BJP received a severe drubbing. Against the 60 seats in UP last year (its allies won three), it was down to a mere 32 seats this time.

UP is just one example of the story of many other states where the Vajpayee and his handling of Kargil factor, failed to work.

l With a mere 112 seats in its kitty, this was the worse performance of the Congress since independence. Yet, Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president whose foreign origin was a major campaign plank for her opponents, romped home from Amethi with the highest margin — over three lakhs — of victory.

Nationally, her party which had secured 25.82 per cent of the total votes in ’98, logged in 28.4 per cent this time. The BJP, on the other hand, went down somewhat — from 25.59 per cent in ’98 to 23.7 per cent now.

l Andhra Pradesh is touted as the example where Vajpayee’s national stature combined with Chandra Babu Naidu’s reforms, resulted in the TDP–BJP sweep of the state. The fact, is that the Congress polled four per cent more votes in the state this time, and but for the last minute seats agreement between the TDP and the BJP, the Congress would have dealt a drubbing to Naidu.

l As many analysts have pointed out, victory for a party in the different states this time was determined by a combination of two factors — the arithmetic of alliance and the chemistry of governance. The Congress lost out because it believed it could come to power on its own; the BJP alliance won only in states where people were not too unhappy with the state government’s performance.

l Before and during the electoral campaign the media and political pundits were full of stories about how Indian politics is finally moving towards a bi–polar system — Congress and the BJP. The fact is that this time as in 1998, between them, the Congress and the BJP could pool just around 50 per cent of the popular vote, the remaining being spilt between a plethora of parties. Of the over 300 Lok Sabha MPs rallied behind Vajpayee, only 182 belong to his own party.

Moral behind the story of Polls ’99: One, none can take the Indian electorate for granted; two, the victory of ‘secular forces’ is impossible, if secularism is not even posed in a meaningful way before the people, which must include their other day–to–day concerns.

Archived from Communalism Combat, November 1999, Year 7  No. 53, Polls 99 2



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